Alabama district IT operations manager takes on many roles

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Nathan White’s job title is misleading.

As the IT operations manager for Elmore County Public Schools in Wetumpka, Ala., White doesn’t just oversee network processes. He also handles E-rate applications, handles vendor relations, manages IT projects, oversees network administrators and technicians, does strategic planning for district-wide initiatives, and recently drafted a Bring Your Own Device policy.

“My role evolved rather quickly,” White, who went to business school and then switched to education, said in an interview. “There’s not a whole lot of upward mobility within the technology department, but I found holes and became assistant technology director. Then I was promoted to my current title.”

White was recognized Monday as one of the 2016 NextGeneration Leaders in a program co-sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking and EdScoop, and supported by Microsoft. The winners were unveiled during CoSN’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

White said his job has transformed since he started nine years ago at Elmore, which has about 11,000 students. He went from working on computer hardware and the wireless system to writing policies and working on curriculum.

Read more of our coverage of CoSN’s annual conference.

“At the end of the day, our goal is student achievement,” he said. “You have to be a very well-rounded leader. It’s not so much that you have to be technical, but a lot of it is people management skills and time management skills.”

This year, White helped launch a full-scale BYOD program – at any one time, there are about 6,000 unique devices on the network. He is also working with the curriculum department to roll out an Advanced Placement computer science course next school year.

There have been challenges – a new digital learning initiative has been stalled because of a switch in superintendents, and instructors allow kids to use their devices in class, but don’t want them to get distracted.

“When you hear BYOD, people automatically think bringing laptops to class,” White said. “It doesn’t look like that anymore. How do you keep students active in the conversation happening in the classroom and not just surfing YouTube and sending Snapchats?”

White said he tried to solve this problem by equipping wireless access points with app control, so the school can have some control about which apps are blocked. Technology leaders are also looking at classroom management software, to possibly allow teachers to control what is on a student’s screen.

At 32 years old, White is one of the youngest edtech leaders in the state, and he takes pride in mentoring other peers to groom them for jobs in IT, which are very much in demand.

“There’s not a clear path for someone like me starting out to get to where we’re going, so I’m glad that CoSN is putting an emphasis on providing these mentors,” he said. “In the next three years, about half of Alabama’s tech directors will be able to retire, but I don’t see the population of young talent to fill.”

White was one of 29 national finalists nominated by fellow education professionals from across the country and selected as a NextGeneration Leader honoree based on a nationwide vote in February organized by EdScoop.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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